Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966)
Directed by Terence Fisher

Starring Andrew Keir Barbara Shelley Christopher Lee Francis Matthews Suzan Farmer

It would be a long seven years after "Horror of Dracula" for Christopher Lee to don the cape again. Hammer's first "sequel" to "Horror" would be Terence Fisher's "Brides of Dracula" and would feature Peter Cushing back in the Van Helsing role, but wouldn't even include Dracula as a character. It was nonetheless an excellent movie, thanks to Fisher's return to the director's chair.

"Prince of Darkness" would prove to be another excellent effort from Fisher. The first 30 minutes of "Prince" are among the best ever featured in a Hammer film. A group of travelers show up in Dracula's neighborhood, looking for kicks. It's been eight years since Van Helsing destroyed the vampire, but the townsfolk are still paranoid. Priests sometimes even stake innocent women. A minister from a nearby abby, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), shows up and blasts the local clergy for behaving like puritanical woman-killing zealots. But he also warns the travelers not to go anywhere near Dracula's castle. Only one of them, played by Shelley, even remotely believes him.

The visitors inevitably find themselves lost in a forest near the castle. A mysterious, driverless carriage comes to pick them up. A tall, gaunt servant named Clove greets them at the castle, telling them that his master commanded that the structure always leave its doors open to visitors. "My master's hospitality is renown," he tells them. It isn't long before one of the travelers is sacrificed by Clove, and his blood used to resurrect the world's most famous bloodsucker. The story presents Dracula's evil as a force that operates even after the vampire has been "destroyed."

In "Prince," Hammer went well beyond the Bram Stoker story, which "Horror" was directly based upon, to present a much more feral Dracula. Lee at times comes across like a trapped animal. After the film's strong opening, the story slows down once it moves from the castle to a monastery where Dracula is hoping to seduce the only surviving female traveler. Hammer Drac flicks always seem to suffer a bit when they take the vampire away from his home. Although this part of the film still features some classic scenes -- including one where Father Sandor explains that vampires cannot be killed, only destroyed, before staking Shelley, who's been transformed into a particularly wild and unruly bloodsucker -- it definitely drags in comparison with the first act of the story.

The film probably would have been a lot stronger had Cushing returned as Van Helsing. Sandor just isn't much of a real replacement. All in all, though, "Prince is a marvelous Hammer film. None of the subsequent entries would come close to its gothic glory -- probably because it marked the last time that Fisher would ever direct one. The next in the series would be the direct sequel "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave."

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-- Review by Lucius Gore


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